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(207) 846-6515

BEHAVIOR: THUNDERSTORMS AND FIREWORKS! NOISE PHOBIAS IN DOGS

Dogs with noise phobia experience a fearful response to certain sounds, especially loud, percussive sounds such as thunder, fireworks and gunshots.

Causes and Risk Factors   Noise phobia is more common in golden retrievers, herding breeds and hounds, dogs with inadequate socialization, dogs that experienced a traumatic event when young, dogs living with another noise-phobic dog, and dogs with other anxiety disorders, such as separation anxiety.

Signs   Noise-phobic dogs become more active and restless in response to noise. Chewing, vocalizing, jumping against windows, digging, trembling, salivating, panting, eliminating inappropriately, having increased heart rates, and constantly seeking to be close to the owner are among the signs they will exhibit. Signs often begin before owners have heard the noise themselves, especially in the case of thunderstorms. 

Diagnosis   Most noise phobias are easy to diagnose; but if only the dog hears the sound or if the sound is not recognized by the owner it may appear as if the dog is having a spontaneous panic attack. An interesting example of this situation occurs during and after ice storms - at these times we see patients and hear of dogs who are exhibiting the same signs that they do when there is a thunderstorm. We have learned that they are reacting to the intermittent, random cracking sounds as branches snap off trees. (For a week after the ice storm of 1997 we had an epidemic of anxious, trembling dogs!)

Treatment   Treatment options for noise phobia include:

  • Ignore the fear behavior.
  • Avoid punishment. 
  • Avoid reassurance. When you pat your dog while it is anxious and speak soothingly to it, telling it "It's OK" what you are actually saying is "It's OK to be this anxious". This is a subtle but very important point; attempts at being comforting will have the opposite effect of increasing the anxiety.
  • Establish a safe, dark place where sounds are muffled and provide pleasant experiences there.
  • Play music with similar tones to mask the phobia-inducing sounds.
  • Consider behavior modification techniques, such as desensitization and counterconditioning.
  • Prescription antianxiety medications can help, and there are a variety of them to choose from.  
  • Non-prescription antianxiety products may be useful: some pets have responded well to pheromones (Adaptil) and Thundershirts and Calming Caps. 

Treatment options for noise phobia that do NOT work include:

  • Herbal Remedies
  • Homeopathy

Prognosis   With some trial therapy, effective solutions for managing noise phobia can usually be found. The key word is "managing"; we can often help our anxious companions significantly, but it is rare that we can "cure" them of their phobia. Without any intervention, or with minimal help, dogs with noise phobia will typically get more anxious as they get older, rather than less so - attempting treatment is definitely worth the effort!

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